Friday, October 5, 2012

Matters of Life & Death

When you are a part of a large family it is rare if you are not introduced to death early on in life. You realize that life is on a cycle, and will end one day, and normally this realization is held on the tails of losing someone you love. It is not fair or explained, but it happens and you just learn how to deal with it. As a child, dealing with it came to me in forms of anger, mistrust, communication and confusion. After gaining more experience this settled into the normal dose of sadness but also a lot of gratitude. You see, I found that when faced with the devastation of losing a loved one there is no right or wrong way to go about your feelings. For the most part you will put walls up, swallow a lot of sorrow out of pride but you are still faced with the harsh reality that the person you have lost is not going to physically be a part of your life any longer. When you add a healthy dose of gratitude to these motions, for one reason or another, the rest of the emotions you will experience are warmer than they would be without them. Through the initial tears of loss, I say to myself ‘I am so lucky to have had this person in my life, not everybody got to have them in their lives, and I will celebrate them though I will miss them’. This when coupled with cherished memories and jokes dulls the hot sting of the vicious and relentless cycle.  

These thoughts were inspired today by my Great Aunt Mary who we lost on September 30th of this year. Aunt Mary was everybody’s Aunt, and she was 90 years young when she was taken from us. The long bountiful life she lead was an example that I have reflected a lot upon through the hours since her service. Aunt Mary made us all family, and this is true. My Elementary School Principal (her nephew) delivered the Eulogy. Through Aunt Mary, we were all family, and this was important. When you treat everyone in your life like a family member you will gain so much more in your lifetime than you lose. There were a lot of wonderful things said about her today, which made the hollowness of her loss a little fuller. 

Sitting in the pew behind my parents with my cousins I listened as Father Sean delivered the most beautiful Homily that was inspired by Aunt Mary. Most of it reflected upon Kings Park, my home town, the tiny dot on Long Island and how Aunt Mary was Kings Park, she was what it is all about. Now many of you reading this may not understand how Kings Park is different than most towns out there. Kings Park is a true community, it is one of the only places left that operates as a true community within a town. When push comes to shove, differences are put aside and we take care of our own. Aunt Mary was a pioneer of Kings Park. She was a town staple. Everyone knew who she was - and she knew who you were too. You also knew never to refuse the spot next to her in Church, because during ‘Peace’ she would slip you a 5 dollar bill while she kissed you on the cheek. Aunt Mary was everything good in this world, and we should all learn a few things from her that I will share on here today. 
  1. Age is only a number: People who get caught up in age, get old. Aunt Mary was a young 90 years and she refused any help in her final years. She wanted to live on her own, take care of herself, and she was going to have it that way. You never once heard her utter how hold she was, that she was tired, that she was aging or ‘too old for that’. She marched in town parades, relished in positive attention and made jokes that sometimes could make you blush. She never once let the years slow her down. Because of this, her 90 years were lived exactly how she wanted them to be lived. When you start focusing on the time that has passed instead of the time ahead, you age yourself and limit yourself. Limitations based on age are meaningless. 

    2. Remember the good things. Aunt Mary had a memory like mine, where she knows you and what happened to you 10 years ago up to today. Any story you shared she knew, and could one up you with another. Something that Aunt Mary didn’t do was pass along bad stories. Maybe the stories would be silly and funny but never cruel or hurtful. If she knew an unflattering thing about you, she took it to her grave with her. She may have been a stubborn woman, but she was never a spiteful one. 

    3. Traditions matter. You go through life learning little things from those who came before you, and while you will pave your own way, their example matters. Holding onto traditions like having a pot of soup on the stove at all times may seem silly to an outsider, but all that matters is that your Grandchildren know and understand where you are coming from. When you lose sight of such things you lose sight of who you are. 

    4. It does not matter what your reward is, always do the right thing. Aunt Mary was a staple in Kings Park History. She was there as the town was made. She went to daily mass, she was good to everyone and never expected anything in return. She went to the wakes of the people who would pass, she made sure Saint Joseph’s Church offered mass for every one of her fallen friends. She never let a day go by that she was not looking out for other people, even in small ways. The words said about her today proved to me that living your life this way is the only way to go. 
It is discouraging sometimes, growing up in this selfish generation that has really lost the meaning of community. But, listening to the words said about Aunt Mary today while the sun shone through the stained glass windows of St. Joseph’s Church in Kings Park made it all make sense. We should all strive to have those things said about us. She had the ability to walk into a room and catapult your mood from bad to good with her just being in your field of vision. Not many people have that quality, and she was one of the greats. 

It hit me that Aunt Mary was gone when I walked into Clayton’s Funeral Home and did not see her. Like I said, Aunt Mary always paid her respects, and always went to make you feel better. At my Uncle Tom’s wake back in 2002, she walked in and saw me sitting alone by the door. She immediately exclaimed ‘Stephanie! You beautiful little thing you, let me introduce you to my seniors.’ Her Seniors were in fact her friends who were all 5-10 years younger than her that she drove to Clayton’s that evening. She held my hand. She knew I was sad, and sitting alone and she held my hand and comforted me without calling attention to the pain I was in. She was magic. At her wake, she was not there to hold any hands, we had to old each others the way she taught so gracefully, and I would say we did her proud. 

It may sound strange, but Aunt Mary was an icon. Professors and Key Food knew who she was based on her daily visits. She was a part of a growing town and survived her whole high school graduating class. It is the end of an era for a community and for a family for sure. Death is just a matter of life, and I am so thankful to have had Aunt Mary - but it does not mean I will miss her any less. 

The words that were spoken in her honor were incredible - we all should strive to have those things said about us when we pass. If I know her, she is in a new shiny red car with Uncle Andy watching over Kings Park as I type. God Bless You Aunt Mary, you were a shining example for us all. 

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